Acts 6: 1-7; IPeter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12
For the first four weeks of Easter much of what we’ve heard from Acts of the Apostles were these great speeches of Peter on Pentecost, reminding the people of what they are about as followers of the Way. It’s about Christ crucified, raised from the dead, and the descent of the Holy Spirit moving them forward. He was a witness of these events and expresses that experience of this paschal mystery, as the Opening Prayer eluded to today.
But today the rubber hits the road. We all know from our own lives and experiences that all the talk of Peter can be just talk when it rubs up against the realities of people’s lives. Despite Peter reminding them of who they are in this deeper inherent dignity that they share in the Christ, today it appears that it’s about to all fall apart around them. There are these two groups referenced to today in Acts. There are the Hellenists, the Greek-speaking followers and the Hebrews, the Aramaic-speaking followers and those who we might refer to insiders. Many were witnesses of the events and hold true to the letter of the law and it begins to push against this new-found freedom of the Hellenists who are taking the community in another direction. It creates this tension and animosity between the two all hinged on this prejudice that the Hebrews have against the Hellenists.
All of this, over the fact that the Hebrews wanted nothing to do with the Hellenists and wouldn’t help to take care of those in need, in particular, the widows. They were blinded by their own prejudice and couldn’t recognize the need of the other. It puts the disciples in a difficult place and they feel overwhelmed by what’s happening and fear an early split in the community and so find a quick-fix. They appoint and anoint Stephen and these other, now what we call, deacons, to care for the widows who are being neglected. However, they too are Hellenists and so on a deeper level they never address the real issue. They don’t address the issue of the prejudice and find a fix to the problem. It won’t go away, though, and will eventually lead to the first council of the church, the Council of Jerusalem where this tension will come to fruition and will become the stumbling stone to so many of the folks who only saw things one way, creating their own letter of the law, their own blindness.
It is that stumbling stone and cornerstone that Peter speaks of in today’s second reading. Paul uses that language in his own writings and quite honestly, the stumbling stone and the cornerstone are one in the same, Christ Jesus and what it’s going to be to be followers of the Way. The resistance they face in that early community is often resistance we face in our own lives. We become so attached to the way things are done and what we have deemed as the only path that one must follow that we become blinded by our own narrow-mindedness. It becomes our stumbling stone without even knowing it half the time because it becomes so entrenched in our lives that it becomes our own prejudice that we fail to see. Like even the early community, for many of us we’d rather die than face the change in our lives that would lead to a fuller life.
That has been the over-riding message of John throughout this season and will be the Way that the disciples will now have to face and decide if they’re willing to confront as the approach Jerusalem and the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus is well aware of the difficulty of choosing to follow the Way and so offers words hope to a make-shift community that is about to experience pain and that stumbling stone in the Cross. Of course we know that they pass through and experience that same freedom as the Hellenists but doesn’t mean it gets easier. They will quickly learn as a community that this paschal mystery that we speak of is not a one-time deal but a lifelong process of conversion. The community will have to learn that it must die and recreate in order to become the new creation that the Gospel has spoken of these weeks and to bring to fruition the words of Peter the past few weeks, that deep down, despite this prejudice that has existed and this tension that has risen up in the community, there is this inherent dignity that lies at the heart of who they all are, Hellenist and Hebrew alike, that can only be realized in this process of conversion and transformation, this process of cycling through the paschal mystery of life and death and life again.
It’s not easy for any of us and quite frankly, we become our greatest stumbling stone to change. Our blinders become so think that we often fail to see the more abundant life that we are created for and allow ourselves to die for the letter of the law. We become trapped as individuals, community, even nation and world, when we don’t open ourselves up to these tensions and allow ourselves to fall into them. It’s messy and it’s difficult but it is the path of the Way and it’s what the followers of the Way had been called to. Sure, maybe there are different paths, but at the heart of it all, when the rubber meets the road, first and foremost it is about conversion and the transformation of our own hearts, creating space within for the Mystery to change us, free us, and lead us to a more abundant life as individuals and as community.